News, Nuggets & Longreads 3 June 2017: Rating, Flyposting, Logging

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the last week, from flyposting to secret manoeuvring.

First, the big sto­ry of the week: for Good Beer Hunt­ing Dave Eisen­berg has fer­ret­ed out the news that Rate­beer, the web­site where seri­ous beer geeks log scores and notes for the beers they drink, is now part­ly owned by AB-InBev:

Through its so-called ‘glob­al dis­rup­tive growth group’ ZX Ven­tures, Anheuser-Busch InBev has acquired a minor­i­ty stake in Rate­Beer, one of the most pop­u­lar and rep­utable beer rat­ings and resource web­sites in the world… But the deal isn’t exact­ly new. In fact, it closed this past Octo­ber fol­low­ing eight months of talks.

That last bit is the weird wrin­kle here. Usu­al­ly, takeovers or part­ner­ships, or what­ev­er you want to call them, are announced imme­di­ate­ly, but this was kept qui­et (to para­phrase GBH’s report) so that the part­ners could prove that Rate­Beer would­n’t be changed by the arrange­ment. Read­ing between the lines what that means is that they were wor­ried about sud­den­ly los­ing half the mem­ber­ship overnight, which might still hap­pen.

(GBH has con­nec­tions with AB-InBev which are set out in a dis­clo­sure state­ment mid­way through the arti­cle. Judge for your­self whether you think this has skewed the report­ing; we think point­ed­ly not.)

Biscuit beers on a blackboard.

Barm at I Might Have a Glass of Refresh­ing Beer (AKA @robsterowski) attend­ed the Edin­burgh Craft Beer Fes­ti­val and used the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect on ‘wacky’ beers and craft beer cul­ture:

Do you remem­ber a cou­ple of years ago, when cup­cake shops were pop­ping up left, right and cen­tre, pur­vey­ing sick­ly sweet icing (sor­ry, ‘frost­ing’) atop a tiny sponge cake base? Despite being most­ly white sug­ar and refined flour, and unut­ter­ably dis­gust­ing to boot, they found ready cheer­lead­ers among food media that nor­mal­ly pray duti­ful­ly to the idols of local ingre­di­ents and fresh pro­duce… This appears to be the phase that ‘craft’ brew­ers are now pass­ing through.

It’s inter­est­ing that some peo­ple seem to have read this post as a slam of a fes­ti­val – ‘Why go to events you know you’re going to hate?’ – but, despite the author’s gen­er­al ten­den­cy to speak his mind, this struck us as quite an objec­tive, ulti­mate­ly pos­i­tive account: ‘I did enjoy myself, much to my sur­prise. More to the point, the pun­ters who’d forked out to get in seemed to be hav­ing a good time too.’

BrewDog bottles in a supermarket.

Suzy AKA The Pub Geek is not impressed by Brew­Dog’s lat­est crowd mar­ket­ing cam­paign:

They’re ask­ing their ‘Equi­ty Punks’ to fly­post across a coun­try which car­ries a poten­tial £80 fine (high­er for Scot­tish ‘punks’) leg­is­lat­ed by the High­ways Act 1980. Not only do Brew­dog want  the ‘Equi­ty Punks’ doing unpaid labour for the cause but they’re poten­tial­ly break­ing the law and they have actu­al­ly paid for this priv­i­lege.

Detail from an old brewing log.

Brew­er and beer writer Mitch Steele, late of Stone Brew­ing, is wor­ried about the decline of the leather-bound hard copy brew­ing log and what that means for the lega­cy of the craft beer era:

I sus­pect there are a lot of craft brew­ers over the years who have fol­lowed a sim­i­lar pat­tern. They have grad­u­at­ed from hand­writ­ten brew logs, that are filed and stored in a box some­where, to spread­sheets, or maybe even to more com­plex equip­ment sup­pli­er auto­mat­ed data­bas­es or ERP sys­tems. But in 100 years, who is going to be able to find any of it if they want to doc­u­ment how beers were brewed dur­ing our cur­rent times? Espe­cial­ly if brew­eries con­tin­ue to grow quick­ly or get sold or close shop… I’m won­der­ing right now if a con­cert­ed effort could be made by the indus­try to pre­serve some brew­ing logs from ear­ly craft brew­ers in a safe place, like a library or a muse­um, where researchers in the future could go back and learn about the tech­niques and ingre­di­ents being used today.

Mild taste-off: multiple milds in plastic beakers.

Ryan Moses, AKA The Beer Coun­sel­lor, has tak­en a month to organ­ise his thoughts on the takeover of Wicked Weed by AB-InBev before reach­ing any con­clu­sions. Acknowl­edg­ing the full range of argu­ments he has nonethe­less con­clud­ed that buy­ing local is best thing con­sumers can do in this sit­u­a­tion:

Let your love of craft beer inform your buy­ing deci­sions of what and where you buy.  If you have local brew­eries near you, fre­quent them.  Buy their beer, their growlers, and their swag.  If you go to a local brew­ery and their beer isn’t as good as you had hoped, don’t frag them on social media. Send a per­son­al email or let­ter to the owner/brewer express­ing your con­cerns in a thought­ful and respect­ful man­ner. We must be the ones who con­trol craft beer. Not the face­less con­glom­er­ates who could just as eas­i­ly be sell­ing ball bear­ings rather than beer.

Coun­ter­point: Michael Agnew at A Per­fect Pint argues (using the strongest of strong lan­guage) that crit­ics have a right, if not a duty, to ‘be mean’:

The crit­i­cism of my cri­tique is often that I’m not giv­ing brew­ers a chance. I’m too quick to name the prob­lems. These brew­ers are young and pas­sion­ate. They have dreams. I’m step­ping on these dreams when all they need is time to work things out. It’s a dif­fi­cult step to go from brew­ing ten gal­lons at a time to brew­ing ten bar­rels. Rather than pub­licly call­ing them out, I should go in and talk to them… In what oth­er indus­try do we say this?

We’re prob­a­bly more Agnew than Moses here but we think blog­ger and some­time blog com­menter Dave S has this right:

A screengrab of the Braciatrix blog.

And, final­ly, a rec­om­men­da­tion for a blog to watch rather than a point­er to spe­cif­ic post: at Bra­ci­a­trix Christi­na Wade is con­sid­er­ing ‘the his­to­ry of beer through the women who brewed, con­sumed, sold, and some­times, opposed it’. So far it’s prov­ing to be some­thing quite fresh. Take a look.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 13 Feb 2016

From Licensed Victuallers to Budweiser here’s all the beer-related reading that’s caught our attention in the past seven days.

→ For the Morn­ing Adver­tis­er Phil Mel­lows has writ­ten a fan­tas­tic piece answer­ing a ques­tion that we’ve asked in the past: what on earth hap­pened to the once mighty Licensed Vict­uallers’ Asso­ci­a­tions?

We were the cham­pi­ons of licensees, we fought bat­tles with brew­ers and we were always on the end of the tele­phone if mem­bers need­ed help or guid­ance,” says for­mer Nor­wich and Nor­folk LVA chair­man Mike Lorenz. “But five or six years ago, mem­ber­ship start­ed falling away dra­mat­i­cal­ly and events were poor­ly attend­ed. Today, organ­i­sa­tions like the BII (British Insti­tute of Innkeep­ing) can offer more ben­e­fits. LVAs are not need­ed.”

→ For US mag­a­zine All About Beer Heather Van­de­nen­gel writes about ‘The Real­i­ty of Being a Woman in the Beer Indus­try’. It’s a good read because the inter­vie­wees are not the Usu­al Sus­pects – pro­duc­tion brew­er Ire­na Bierzyn­ski’s com­ments are par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing – but would­n’t it be good to read more arti­cles about women in beer that aren’t point­ed­ly about Women in Beer?

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 13 Feb 2016”

Artyfacts from the Nyneties #3: Editors at War

This really is the footnote to end all footnotes but it interested us because it answered some lingering from this long post about women in the world of British beer.

Back in 2013, we emailed Andrea Gillies, who edit­ed two edi­tions of the Cam­paign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide in the ear­ly 1990s, but she was­n’t espe­cial­ly keen to talk about her time at CAMRA. Now we think we know why.

After a peri­od of appar­ent­ly rea­son­ably friend­ly rela­tions with her for­mer employ­er dur­ing which she wrote a chal­leng­ing guest col­umn about bot­tled beer (WB, Novem­ber 1993), in Decem­ber 1993, this hap­pened:

Gillies raps 'blokish' GBG -- story from What's Brewing, December 1993.
From What’s Brew­ing, Decem­ber 1993. (Click to enlarge.)

Though Mr Evan­s’s response was fair­ly diplo­mat­ic it’s hard not to sus­pect that some per­sis­tent resent­ment in St Albans influ­enced this review of Ms Gillies’ own book released in 1995:

'How Andrea Got "Canned"', book review from What's Brewing.
From What’s Brew­ing, Octo­ber 1995. (Click to enlarge.)

We weren’t there, and we don’t know the peo­ple involved, so it would­n’t be right for us to pick sides. It was pret­ty for­ward-think­ing of CAMRA to appoint Ms Gillies in 1988, though, and it’s a shame it all got so nasty.

Where’s Your Boyfriend?

Ladies sign in a pub.

by Boak

As a woman, I’ve become careful in choosing which pubs I go into on my own.

Unlike the oth­er half, I’m an extro­vert – I get antsy if I’m on my own and tend to seek out com­pa­ny when I’m away on busi­ness. A pub is the per­fect place for this, right?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, when I was younger, I had a few too many encoun­ters like this:

I enter a pub, realise there are no oth­er women there, but approach the bar and order a drink any­way, all the time aware that con­ver­sa­tion has stopped and the blokes round the bar are star­ing at me.

Here on busi­ness, are you?”

[As cold­ly as pos­si­ble] “Yes.”

I retreat to a table with my beer, get out a book or a news­pa­per, and read it with intense con­cen­tra­tion. By this point, I’m already feel­ing uncom­fort­able. Not ter­ri­fied or angry – uncom­fort­able.

Then some­one calls out, or, worse, comes over: “Where’s your boyfriend?” or “Why don’t you come and sit with us?” or “What’s a girl like you doing all on your own?”

Feel­ing rather intim­i­dat­ed by the atten­tion of the pack, I have to decide as quick­ly as pos­si­ble how to respond:

  1. I’m try­ing to read my book.”
  2. Go away.” (Or words to that effect.)
  3. He’s join­ing me in a minute.” (A fib.)

Some blokes will prob­a­bly be think­ing, so what? Big deal. After all, he has­n’t said any­thing obscene and he has­n’t touched me, and I’ve only had to say a few words to get rid of him.

I don’t know how to con­vey how it feels to be cor­nered by a half-drunk bloke sev­er­al inch­es taller than you, sev­er­al stone heav­ier, in a strange pub, in a strange town, while his mates egg him on and/or observe from the bar. In the par­tic­u­lar instances I have in mind, it was­n’t a polite, ten­ta­tive approach – it was an enti­tled, arro­gant swag­ger. Suf­fice to say, it’s not much fun.

The prob­lem for pubs is that, even if I was capa­ble of shrug­ging it off, it’s still more trou­ble than I can be both­ered with when all I want is some­where to sit. I love pubs – prop­er pubs – but because of this kind of thing, they lose my cus­tom to places such as Piz­za Express or Cos­ta Cof­fee, where I’ve nev­er been harassed while eat­ing or drink­ing on my own.

When I do go to pubs on my own, I’ve got good at select­ing places which are (groan) female-friend­ly. I don’t espe­cial­ly like tea-lights, cush­ions and soft rock, but they seem to be off-putting to the kind of bloke I’ve been both­ered by in the past. It’s also help­ful to be able to see in before I walk through the door – if there are oth­er women drink­ing there, I’ll prob­a­bly be OK. If it’s all male, I walk on by.

But, going back to the sit­u­a­tion described above, what would actu­al­ly help is if one of his mates, the pub­li­cans or their bar staff had the sen­si­tiv­i­ty and/or nerve to say, when they see Casano­va work­ing up to make his move: “Oi, Bert – leave the lady alone!”

On Twit­ter, a few women told us they were com­fort­able in pubs on their own, while oth­ers said it depend­ed where: Lon­don is fine, but rur­al areas less so. Oth­ers talked about using a book as a shield and hid­ing out of sight in the hope of avoid­ing atten­tion. Again, I won­der if the lounge was such a bad idea after all…

See also:

Weird cider/beer hybrid


The lat­est issue of Mar­ket­ing mag­a­zine brings news of the launch of an appalling-sound­ing half-beer/half-cider chimera from one of the big inter­na­tion­al brew­ers. It’s made with cider, bar­ley malt and “sparkling water”. I can’t be both­ered to give this foul-sound­ing prod­uct any pub­lic­i­ty by nam­ing it… so I won’t.

The inter­est­ing thing is that they claim to have devised the prod­uct based on research which shows that a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of women “don’t like beer and dis­trust the qual­i­ty of wine in bars”.

For one thing, I’m not sure that the log­i­cal con­clu­sion from that research is: “I bet those same women would just love a weird cider-beer hybrid!”

But I’d also observe, para­phras­ing their line, that there are many peo­ple of both gen­ders who “don’t like wine, and dis­trust the qual­i­ty of real ale in pubs”, which explains the pop­u­lar­i­ty of bland lagers and Guin­ness in the UK. Too often, the choice is between a cor­po­rate prod­uct which is bor­ing but con­sis­tent, and a “real” prod­uct which stinks, tastes bad and looks bad because it’s not been well looked after. You can’t blame peo­ple for going down the bland route when that’s the choice.

In both cas­es, the solu­tion is prob­a­bly cam­paign­ing to improve the qual­i­ty of the wine, beer, cider, whisky or what­ev­er, in bars and pubs.

One way to do that would be for CAMRA to make the cri­te­ria for get­ting into their Good Beer Guide slight­ly more strict. At the moment, as far as I can tell, it lists every pub with any kind of cask ale on offer, although they say “only pubs with a con­sis­tent­ly high stan­dard of real ale are con­sid­ered for entry”. Sad­ly, my expe­ri­ence has been that quite a few unwel­com­ing, grot­ty, smelly pubs get in because they’ve got an old, rank cask of Greene King IPA on one pump at the bar.